The Q&A Archives: Sweet Bay

Question: How do you distinguish a sweet bay leaf tree
(laurus nobilis) from the mountain laurel, a native of the United States, which has poisonous leaves?
Thanks for your help.

Answer: Sweet Bay is Laurus nobilis, a slow-growing shrub 12'-40' tall. Leaves are dark green, leathery, aromatic, oval, and 2"-4" long. The plant bears clusters of small yellow flowers followed by black or dark purple berries. Mountain Laurel is Kalmia latifolia. It's slow-growing to 6'-8' with equal spread and glossy, leathery, oval leaves 3"-5" long. The leaves are dark green on top and yellowish-green beneath. This plant produces white, pink or red flowers, most with spots or bands in contrasting colors. The leaves of Mountain laurel are poisonous, as are their cousin Rhododendron. You can tell the difference between the plants by breaking a leaf apart. If it's fragrant and the same color on both sides, it's bay laurel. Hope this helps clarify things!

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